The Waswanipi band council has decided to go ahead with a blockade to protest forestry policies sometime this summer, according to a council member.
The decision was not made in a formal resolution, but the chief, John Kitchen, reportedly supported the idea.
The idea was then brought before a community general assembly in mid-April. Present at the assembly was Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come, who was given a vote of confidence to proceed with the Cree forestry court action filed last summer.
Community members also supported the idea of filing an injunction to halt forestry operations in Cree territory.
The idea of a blockade has floated around for years in Waswanipi and other communities hit hardest by forestry.
The council member said Waswanipi never went ahead with the idea before because residents wanted to exhaust all other avenues, like legal action.
“Now, we’re getting nowhere with the court case. It seems to me our neighbours are getting somewhere with road-blocks,” said the councillor. “So we’re going for it.”
The location and timing of the road-block have yet to be decided, but it would probably be located on a logging road in Category II or III land, the council member said.
Donohue and Barrette-Chapais are apparently two of the blockade targets being considered.
A Donohue official reacted with surprise to Waswanipi’s decision. “I’m very surprised. It worries me a lot,” said André Dupras, the company’s vice-president of communications. “I
thought we had good relations with them.”
A Quebec government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he hopes Crees don’t go ahead with a road-block.
“My reaction is I hope it won’t be the case,” said the official, who is involved in forestry issues. “The message from (Cree negotiator Romeo) Saganash and other Crees is they prefer to use democratic methods of pressure, rather than that kind,” he said.
He said that, personally, he believes Quebec’s forestry policy should be changed. He believes the real culprit isn’t the amount of trees cut, but rather the size of clear-cuts that makes traplines unviable.
The Waswanipi decision comes as relations between Crees and Quebec are on life-support. In February, angered by the Cree forestry court case, the Quebec government suspended negotiations on funding for Cree community projects.
The projects were promised in the 1975 James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, but never got funding.
Talks with Quebec also suddenly collapsed on a wide variety of other issues: everything from nurses’ pay to health-care reforms and the Cree Trappers’ Association.
Cree leaders and the Liberal Opposition have called Quebec’s suspension of talks blackmail. “It’s bad faith on Quebec’s part,” said Bill Namagoose, executive director of the Grand Council of the Crees.
Cree chiefs were scheduled to fly to Quebec City for an April 15 meeting with Native Affairs Minister Guy Chevrette to try to iron out the problems. But, at the last minute, the meeting was cancelled no explanation.